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Cybersecurity expert encourages students to pay attention | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


Patrick Wright, state information security officer for the State of Nebraska, offers some simple tips that everyone can use to stay safer online. He spoke with The Times after a presentation at Gretna High School on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.


As technology becomes more deeply integrated into every facet of our daily lives, the risk posed by bad actors grows alongside it.

Criminal activity using computers is projected to have a $7 trillion cost globally — larger than the gross domestic product of any country other than the U.S. and China — and digital tools are always being used to wage war and commit acts of terrorism and sabotage.

So it’s unsurprising there are 3.4 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs worldwide, with demand intensifying as the consequences of neglecting digital defenses are felt at all levels of government, business and the rest of the economy.

Patrick Wright, state information security officer for Nebraska, gave an overview of cybersecurity threats to computer science students at Gretna High School on Tuesday, Jan. 17, and he answered questions from students interested in exploring potential careers.

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“It’s an exploding industry, and it’s going to continue to explode,” Wright said.

The internet enables a dizzying amount of data to criss-cross the world. Wright shared some statistics about the volume of internet traffic worldwide to illustrate just how many individual clicks or views could be subject to attack.

In one minute, the internet relays 231 million emails, 167 million hours of TikTok videos, 16.2 million text messages, posts for 2.1 million active users of Facebook, 2 million Snapchat messages, 575,000 tweets, 12,500 rides through Uber — the list goes on, and that’s just from major platforms, not critical infrastructure, e-commerce sites or other internet applications.

“There’s a cyber attack every 39 seconds,” Wright said. “Last year, there were nine significant zero day vulnerabilities — six of them are still actively being exploited.”

A zero day vulnerability is one discovered by nefarious actors before there’s a remedy, such as software patch that might be installed through routine updates. The “zero day” refers to the fact that security professionals have no time to develop a fix once they become aware of the problem it’s likely already being used in attacks.

“There’s no way for an organization to remediate that vulnerability,” Wright said.

That’s bad news for any given organization, but Wright encouraged the Gretna high schoolers to think bigger — say on the scale of countries waging war or the global economy.

“It’s estimated that cybercrime, by 2027, is going to hit almost $24 trillion,” Wright said. “I don’t think the U.S. or the rest of the nations in the world have an extra $24 trillion just laying around. It’s a massive problem.”

Beyond that, targeted attacks can take down military defense systems, banks or other critical sectors. Wright pointed to the havoc at airports across the country recently when the Federal Aviation Administration had a database file corrupted — which did not appear to be a cyber attack, the FAA has said.

Public school districts are common targets. The Des Moines Public Schools, the largest district in Iowa, had to cancel classes for 30,000 students for two days earlier this month after an apparent cyberattack. In 2019, the Papillion La Vista schools suffered a cyberattack that prompted an FBI investigation and required every employee’s laptop to undergo service.

“Last year, 1,900 school districts across the U.S. fell victim to ransomware,” Wright siad. “Cyber threat actors don’t care if you’re a school, if you’re a large enterprise, if you’re a government entity. What they care about is exploiting systems, data and, ultimately, you. They are trying to exploit your data.”

Wright pointed out that while the high schoolers themselves may not be of particular interest to bad actors, their parents or other people in their lives might be targets — one that can be reached through them.

“I learned a lot of stuff,” senior Allison Pecoraro said after Wright’s remarks. “I didn’t even think about stuff going from you to your parents. That was kind of creepy to learn, but also good.”

Senior Elizabeth Cullison said she wasn’t aware there were so many hacker groups in countries like Russia or the scale of organized cybercrime.

“I didn’t realize it was that bad,” she said.

Both students said they’d recommend that people actually review privacy policies and understand what permissions they’re granting applications and websites. Wright agreed with the students in an interview with The Times that people should check what their apps have access to on their smartphone and other devices.

Wright also encouraged the use of multi-factor authentication, which requires adding a security code from a text message or specialized app to a traditional password — the digital equivalent of showing two forms of identification.

“That will reduce fraudulent logins to accounts,” Wright said.

Using longer passwords is also helpful, as is avoiding simplistic passwords like “password” to access accounts.

Wright also said it’s important to look where you’re posting information online, such as on social media platforms.

“Don’t publicly post things on social media accounts,” Wright said. “Be selective and go through those privacy settings and only post it to certain friends or certain group of friends, so you’re not posting information to the public.”

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